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Winifred “Winnie” Madikizela-Mandela was honoured as a recipient of the Silver Order of Luthuli for her role in the struggle against apartheid at the 2016 National Orders Awards ceremony in Pretoria on Thursday, 28th April 2016. Her grandchildren, Zondwa Mandela & Zoleka Mandela received the award on her behalf.
“My grandmother’s recent hospitalization was tense for her, our family and her supporters. Mama is well on her way to a full recovery at home. She accepts this award and shares it with everyone who strives for justice and freedom,” said Zondwa Mandela
The Order of Luthuli recognises South African citizens who have contributed to the struggle for democracy, nation-building, building democracy and human rights, justice and peace as well as for the resolution of conflict.
The awards are bestowed by President Jacob Zuma on distinguished local citizens and eminent foreign nationals who have played a momentous role towards building a free democratic South Africa and who also have made a significant impact on improving the lives of South Africans in various ways.
Special Features / 26 September 2016, 1:13pm
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s influence on young black revolutionaries was immense, as Julius Malema recalled in an interview with Janet Smith a few years ago.
Julius Malema tells a story from 2003 when Cosas staged its infamous march in Joburg, and some of its young members ran amok, running wild through the ranks, overturning hawkers’ stands and breaking car windows. A Cosas leader then, he admits now that it was “a very difficult” day. He and other young leaders were terrified as noise and chaos overpowered the streets.
Then Cosas president Julius Malema with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ANC Women’s League president and Cosas honorary president at the time, at a rally in 2003. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA
Then a mere 22, Malema confesses some of them then fled the scene of anarchy at its most intense. They didn’t know what to do, or where to turn, and so they ran to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s house in Soweto.
“We felt there must be an elder with some experience to help us with this type of a situation,” he reflects.
He relates how Madikizela-Mandela listened to them and heard their defences.
“Then she said, ja, you’re not listening – I’m taking you to the police station. She took us there (to Hillbrow), there they charged us, and when they were supposed to lock us up, she fought and said, no, I didn’t bring them here for you to lock them up. They have messed up. Charge them. Then let them be released on warning and I will take care of them and they will come to court. And they did exactly that.”
After that, Malema says, Madikizela-Mandela helped him and his fellow student leaders convene a meeting with the hawkers’ association in the interests of peaceful resolution. It went calmly. Eventually the State too withdrew its charges.
He tells the story because it helps centralise the role Madikizela-Mandela has played for many young black revolutionaries. Malema admits, though, that he found that role quite complicated a few years later when she warned him and others at the ANC’s pivotal Polokwane conference in 2007 that “the levels of division” in the party were going to put it “into a permanent crisis”. He recalls her saying: “Let’s allow Thabo and Zuma to continue in their positions until we find a solution after and beyond this crisis.”
But for Malema – who backed Jacob Zuma against Thabo Mbeki at the time – this was unconscionable. “I ran away again,” he says. “I was no longer interested to talk to her because she was advocating something different. Later, we came to appreciate she was correct. Had we allowed that cooling-off period, perhaps it would have brought some different reasoning.”
These are significant remarks from the EFF leader who, like other revolutionaries – including late MP and former ANC Youth League president Peter Mokaba, and assassinated ANC and SACP hero Chris Hani – found close associations with Madikizela-Mandela. She drew the ire of Zuma’s champions when she supported Malema at his ANC disciplinary hearing in 2011, and he explains “she went to warn the ANC when they were trying us in the DC”.
“She said: I’m not here to justify whether the young boys are correct or not. I’m here to tell you that expulsion or suspension is not an option. They are doing what they are doing because we as elders have failed, and we must take responsibility and teach them correct politics.”
Malema’s words, in an interview for the book A Coming Revolution, gained ground this month as Madikizela-Mandela – who supported the ANC for the municipal elections in August – spoke her mind about the party to which she gave her life 55 years ago as a young social worker. “The country’s leadership needs introspection,” she said. “(It) needs to find a permanent solution. You are asking me to self-critique. I’m in the national executive, and look at the country today. I am the ANC… what is left of the ANC. We cannot pretend things are not wrong… We need a whole layer of fresh leadership combined with the leaders who are still left. We need to go back and see where we went wrong …and who has the answer to that? It is the governing party.”
For Malema, who calls himself “a product of Mokaba and Winnie, victims of apartheid propaganda”, this is the Madikizela-Mandela who mentored him and who he understands, who presented him with a peculiarly South African revolutionary fervour, but also a wisdom which he hopes to bring to his own role.
He’s cognisant, he says, of patterns in the rhetoric which allowed the ANC to expel him and other young leaders who couldn’t break down its patriarchy or centre its confusing ideological blend of conservative African nationalism and neo-liberalism. Among those patterns would be the manner in which Malema sees his enemies – among them, senior members of the ANC – as being in danger of replicating some of the dirty tricks of the apartheid regime.
“Winnie Mandela … the apartheid regime got into her bedroom, destroyed her from her bedroom, said all manner of things about her. She never looked back. She soldiered on.
“I am happy I have hit where it matters most. The enemy’s talking. For me, it is cause for celebration that I’m making this impact. Giving you good examples. Malema: woodwork. Mokaba: apartheid spy. Winnie Mandela: cheated on an icon.”
Mokaba allegedly confessed under ANC internal interrogation to being a security police informant during apartheid. But the story goes that, among others, Madikizela-Mandela secured his survival in the early 1990s. It was suggested Mokaba might have been seen as an antagonist by some, but those who were not in favour of Zuma’s ascendancy protected him.
This narrative remains a guarded conflict within the movement, however, and perhaps it is only Madikizela-Mandela who can properly unravel its mysteries. Nonetheless, her position as a link between those young revolutionaries and the ANC’s hierarchy was never questioned.
In his book The Politics of Moral Capital, John Kane recalls prominent anti-apartheid activist Dr Nthato Motlana speaking about Madikizela-Mandela’s pivotal role in bridging trenches between Black Consciousness, the PAC and the ANC during apartheid. Then a member of the Black Parents Association, he said people needed a powerful individual who would transcend internecine battles, and young black people found their views most easily heard by Madikizela-Mandela.
Motlana says she bridged the gap not only between opposing ideological factions, but more vitally, between the youth and the older generation.
Yet sections of the ANC threatened by her individualised and elevated position even after Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990 perhaps bear reference to Malema’s contention around “the enemy talking”. Even as Madikizela-Mandela this week condemned students who’d turned violent during #FeesMustFall protests, and regretted the post-apartheid truth that free education is not possible, it was clear her portfolio as a pathfinder for liberation has not been quelled at 80.
Speaking from the home she’d shared with Mandela on Vilakazi Street, Soweto, she was drawn to quietly reflect: “Sometimes we miss those days when we were fighting for real freedom.”
Janet Smith interviewed Julius Malema for the book The Coming Revolution: Julius Malema And The Fight for Economic Freedom (Jacana, 2014)
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Even at 80, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela captures South Africa and the world’s imagination. Unlike the partners of other liberation struggle icons, Madikizela-Mandela has refused to live a quiet life in a free South Africa, courting controversy and making great personal sacrifices throughout her career as a political activist.
Born on Sept. 26 in 1936, in one of South Africa’s most scenic corners in the Eastern Cape, Madikizela-Mandela is today a globally recognized figure. Her life has been captured on television, in film and even opera, thanks in part to the reputation of her late husband Nelson Mandela, whose name she reportedly once described as a burden. When Mandela was first jailed, Madikizela-Mandela was indeed the young wife and mother who took up her husband’s fight. But by the time he was released, that fight for a non-racial South Africa was just as much her own.
Legend has it that Nelson Mandela felt he’d been hit by lightning the first time he spotted the young social worker in 1957. But soon after they married, Mandela was arrested again, tried a second time for treason, and sentenced to 27 years in prison.
Throughout her husband’s incarceration, the young woman withstood police harassment and defied the apartheid government, continuing her political activism. She was detained under terrorism laws for 17 months in 1969. On her release, she continued to organize for racial equality, establishing groups like the Black Women’s Federation and the Black Parents’ Association during the 1976 youth uprising.
From 1977 to 1986, she was banned from her beloved Soweto. As soon as she returned home, she resumed duties in the African National Congress. The ANC was banned, but Madikizela-Mandela sheltered young activists and helped build an underground network of insurgents. She was known all over South Africa’s largest black township, and today her small home is a museum. She recently opened a restaurant nearby to take advantage of what is today a busy tourist destination.
Yet hers is not a biography that fits neatly into the narrative of a liberation hero. Many believe Madikizela-Mandela has blood on her hands, after a group of her loyalists beat a 14-year-old boy to death over rumors that he was an apartheid government spy in 1988. Years later, witnesses at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission claimed that Madikizela-Mandela had carried out the boy’s murder herself. She was eventually cleared when one of the men who were among her loyalists admitted to the murder. Those young men, under cover as a local football club, went on to commit twelve more murders.
During the 1980s, when South Africa’s black townships resembled a war zone, Madikizela-Mandela’s fiery rhetoric is also believed to have contributed to the phenomenon of necklacing—when suspected traitors were doused with petrol, trapped with a tire around their necks and bodies, and burned alive in the street.
Later, as a member of parliament, she was embroiled in scandal over mismanagement of public funds. At times, Mandela and the party distanced themselves from her, but Madikizela-Mandela continued to broad mass support.
After Mandela’s release from prison, the couple separated. After they divorced in 1996, Madikizela-Mandela became Mandela’s most outspoken critic. In an infamous 2010 interview with Nadira Naipul, wife of author V.S. Naipul, in the UK’s Evening Standard, Madikizela-Mandela accused the global peace icon of selling out South Africa’s liberation struggle.
“I am not alone. The people of Soweto are still with me. Look what they make him do. The great Mandela. He has no control or say any more,” she said. “They put that huge statue of him right in the middle of the most affluent ‘white’ area of Johannesburg. Not here where we spilled our blood and where it all started. Mandela is now a corporate foundation.”
A decade after Njabulo Ndebele’s boundary-breaking book about Winnie Mandela was published, he looks back at the moment he met the woman herself.
To calm my nerves, I walked through the corridors of books at Exclusive Books Hyde Park, in Johannesburg. It was the evening of Tuesday September 16 2003. The Johannesburg launch of my book, The Cry of Winnie Mandela, would begin any moment. As there was only one book on my mind, the books lining the shelves on either side of me were a blur. Then I heard a male voice just behind me: “Mummy is here!”
I turned round to face the speaker. “Mummy?” I asked.
“Mummy has arrived.”
Instantly, I knew. Only one woman could be called “Mummy” and I too would know who she was. No doubt about it. Who else but Winnie Mandela could be called “Mummy” at the moment that a book, which bore her name, was about to be launched? It had to be she with whom I had lived intimately in my mind and in my emotions for more than ten years; and who in the last two years had possessed me as her story seized me forcefully enough to get me to write it.
But as I looked at the determined face of the young man who had found me among the books and who was on a mission to summon me to “Mummy”, I felt a surge of alertness through my body. My mind tensed. It was an instinct for vigilance. I had learnt over the years to recognise it. It told me that how I responded to “Mummy” would be no small matter. It warned me that I stood at the precipice of an unguarded moment when I could inadvertently concede to the appearance of mutual knowledge about who “Mummy” was as assumed, without doubt, by the summoner.
By allowing myself to be swept into the usage of the word “Mummy”, as if such usage was normal for me too, I would unwittingly confirm my membership of a community in which that name resonated with a great deal of shared knowledge, expectations and conduct. The subtle pressures of unwitting encapsulation made no allowance for any possible reservations to be recognised and expressed.
I stared at the dawning implications. There was a kind of social knowledge, and the behaviour it engendered, in which admiration for a public figure easily turned into adoration, and such adoration became a soft mechanism by which those caught in the momentum of adoration were enticed into a trap. In this trap, a great deal of oneself was given away to the adored personality such that one was subjugated by adoration. In that way humans often worshipped another of their kind. In that way humans created in others their own domineering monsters. Such adoration spreads in society in numerous waves of unguarded moments until it becomes a defining measure of social behaviour. People then get caught in a culture of unthinking. They yield to the perceived rewards of membership. Many people around the world, who allowed unguarded moments to decide for them, lived to regret it, sometimes over generations.
“Mummy?” I asked, simulating genuine puzzlement.
“Yes! Mama Winnie Mandela is here.”
And so it was. If she was “Mummy” to him, she was Winnie Mandela to me. I had achieved the distancing I desired and I could now offer the acknowledgement the summoner had had to earn. I smiled and looked at his unsmiling, determined face. He was a man on a mission. I had seen many such faces before: faces of functionaries single-mindedly devoted to those they served. They are to be handled with caution. My smile and the subtle arching of my body towards him, suggestive of the beginning of a footstep, were my immediate rewards to him. They were a signal I hoped both of us would read as: “All right, I’ll follow you to Mummy.” And so it turned out.
I followed the summoner to encounter the reality of a life I had up to then only imagined. What now? My mind pondered an escalating moment.
An escalating moment, indeed. A whirl of impressions, some definite, others a blur. There was already a group of people around Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. I remember feeling somewhat deterred by this human barrier. It required me to exert an extra effort to reach her. I resorted to the certainty that there was no way she and I would not, in the vicinity of moment, meet soon enough. Meanwhile, I was content to let others have their fill. It is in my nature not to jostle for the attention of powerful figures, even those who may deserve my or others’ attention.
But the book launch was a special event. Neither Madikizela-Mandela nor I, now that she was there, could avoid the necessity of meeting. The original characters at centre stage, my book and I, had to accommodate a third character, one who had offered us her attention and recognition. I too had to give her mine without delay.
The summoner, whose task was his command, came into his own at that very moment, clearing the space with authority and sureness of purpose that was determined without being abrasive. At the end of the cleared space, there she was: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, resplendent in red.
There she was, the woman I had contemplated, often with painful intensity. In my imaginative life with her I got as close as I could to the compelling power of her life. It did not take long for me, after the mind-whirling moment of our preliminary greetings, to confirm the wisdom of my decision not to have brought a third, real person into the relationship between me and the woman of my imagination.
My decision not to interview Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was a first-order distancing effect. It underscored my project as fundamentally artistic, not biographical. It assured me total control over my creative space. It was a necessity that demanded that I impose vigilance over myself, and avoid the lure of close proximity to the real subject. The public domain was the source of all the information I needed. There was a comforting democracy in that choice.
But once the writing got under way, and I edged closer and closer towards who my intuitions were telling me was the real person, I opted for a second-order distancing effect: the imagined woman imagining herself. Through a device of art, I could get closer to an imagined essence as I got further and further away from the physical reality of the woman who now stood before me. And so it is that the unreality of art is a contrived reality that can get us microscopically closer to lived life.
In the whirl of memory, I will always remember that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was stunning in a suit of red radiance. Social journalist Gillian Anstey who, whenever I had met her on similar occasions in the past, always wore an inquisitive, even hungry, face, searching for something, daring you to reveal something, did find something to express about Madikizela-Mandela: “She looked majestic in a bright red suit with a floor-length skirt and beaded headband.”
That headband! It gave her the aura of commanding presence, strong enough for me to remember thinking: she has the aura of her husband.
I do not remember our first words; but I recall the sense of awkwardness. I think it had to do with the absence of prior preliminaries to soften the interactive space we would have between us. The summoner had certainly not been the best vehicle for such scene-setting preliminaries.
Earlier that day Madikizela-Mandela had been at a Cosatu national congress where she was received with the rapture only the “Mother of the Nation” could be assured of. In that familiar terrain, she must have been at home. Crowds were the waters in which she could swim with assured strokes. Crowds were the social means for the spread of the adoration of personality. There, she could be assured of the predictable support of a crowd with which she shared a history of political community. The book launch, by contrast, was a more intimate space, and far less predictable a space for brazen messages. What would she say to a writer with whom she shared no interpersonal history?
“What a surprise!” I did say. I recall saying how pleased I was that she had come to the launch. A natural thing to say and could be a fitting substitute for the weather. But such speech rituals often do express genuine feelings: and this one did. It was truly wonderful to see her, and to see her so closely my arm would still be bent at the elbow if I touched her.
I do recall asking if she had read the book. I do recall her saying she hadn’t, and that a relative in the United States had told her about it. I do recall wondering about that, but deciding not to be interrogatory. This was a moment of pleasantries. But I did marvel at the relative; at his or her ability to convey, over the phone or in writing, the intricacies of a novel such that its eponymous subject felt so much at ease with the book that she did not feel compelled to read it to confirm the feedback, before coming to the launch. It seemed an expression of confidence that the artistic impression of her in the book could enjoy her associative presence. But then again, had she really not read the book?
As I thought these thoughts, the writer in me, who grappled with the intricacies of Winnie Mandela”s life, saw the iconic, celebrity figure before me begin to blur into the background. The woman who emerged before me took the place of the warrior of fame, defiance, brutality, notoriety and moral ambiguity. The woman before me, I could now confirm to myself, had been the prompt for my aesthetic equanimity. Because of this woman, I had had to work hard to stop just short of judging the other one. The woman before me resembled the good against which humans over millennia have picked up arms against evil.
There she was, not as confident as she made out; she, the one with doubts that the other persona assails. She was warm, with a face of engaging intelligence. I could not doubt the essence of genuineness I intuited at that moment. This woman, who gave art to my labours, ignited my affection. Who then is the other woman?
Who is the one I read about and who, from film footage I had seen, denied with imperious firmness, events in which she was a central player in the presence of others who bore testimony? How could testimonies from so many be obliterated by the testimony of one? What is the probability that all these other witnesses who attached horrible deeds to Winnie Mandela could, with corroborative detail, have marshalled an elaborate conspiracy to invent events that wrongfully implicated her? How do seemingly random testimonies converge into mutually confirming accounts? It all makes for a story.
The gap between the woman who stood before me and the woman with allegations of terror and dread stacked against her is the gap of speculation. Because the woman involved does not resolve the contradictions except through evasion and denial, which intensify contradiction, she badgers credibility. What is to be believed about her? How reliable can she be? Can she ever be trusted? At stake is credibility. What is the true value of credibility? It all makes for a story. So who is the woman, in one of my vivid memories of the evening of the book launch, who having intimated she had not read the book, stood at the end of a queue of readers who had each purchased a copy, and signed her autograph? With what sense of self did she sign each book?
There were readers who left without my autograph. How else could it be? The queue of those who sought my own was incontestably shorter. Yet, I watched with warmth the woman who had made the evening more memorable.
I also remember Winnie Mandela’s inscription in my daughter’s copy: “With all my love.”
It makes for a story.
It is, in all likelihood, a story at the heart of modern South Africa.
Njabulo Ndebele is the chancellor of the University of Johannesburg. This is an extract from the new introduction to the 10th-anniversary reissue of The Cry of Winnie Mandela, published by Picador Africa.
Nelson Mandela’s former wife has said that South Africa requires a “whole layer of fresh leadership” and called on senior figures in the African National Congress (ANC) to deal with allegations of corruption.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who is herself a member of the ANC’s highest decision-making body, said that the party required “introspection” in order to determine “where we went so wrong” since leading the campaign against apartheid, the political system of racial segregation that ended in South Africa in 1994.
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The ANC recorded its worst election result since 1994 in August’s local government vote. While it still collected more than 50 percent of votes around the country, the ANC’s share of the national vote fell by 8 percent compared to the general election in 2014. The governing party also lost control of key urban areas in South Africa, including the economic hub Johannesburg and the administrative capital Pretoria.
Winnie Mandela and Jacob Zuma Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (L) and South African President Jacob Zuma (R) attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, South Africa, on December 15, 2013. Madikizela-Mandela has called for introspection and fresh leadership in the ANC. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
“Look at the country today. I am the African National Congress, what is left of the African National Congress. We cannot pretend we do not have problems, we cannot pretend things are not wrong in our country. A lot of things are wrong,” said Madikizela-Mandela, 79, at a press conference in Soweto on Thursday, South African news channel eNCA reported.
Factions have begun to develop in the ANC, with some members of the party calling for President Jacob Zuma—who is also the party leader—to step down. Protesters from different sides of the ANC clashed at the party’s headquarters in Johannesburg earlier in September, with anti-Zuma critics accusing the president’s supporters of threatening them with violence.
Zuma’s presidency has been riddled with scandals. Earlier in 2016, the country’s highest court ruled that Zuma had “failed to uphold the constitution” in relation to state-funded expenditure on improving his homestead in Nkandla, in South Africa’s eastern KwaZulu-Natal province. The president is also fighting the reinstatement of almost 800 corruption charges against him, which were initially dismissed in 2009, and has been accused of undermining Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who has been the subject of a probe by the country’s elite police unit.
Madikizela-Mandela was married to Mandela for 38 years, including during his 27-year imprisonment. The couple divorced in 1996, two years after the abolition of apartheid and Mandela’s election as president. The former first lady played a prominent role in the liberation struggle but was also accused by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission of orchestrating a football club of disaffected youths who were involved in assaults, arson and killings in Soweto in the years before apartheid was ended.